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    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar Alcohols

    41wLDBs6BUL._SL500_AA280_If a food product is sugar free but lists 8-15 grams of sugar alcohols, should I just avoid it?

    What is a sugar alcohol, anyway?

    — Jessica Rothschild
    Queens, NY

    Sugar alcohols are naturally-occurring substances (carbohydrates, actually) in fruits and vegetables.

    Their name already tells you something — from a molecular standpoint, they have some things in common with sugar (sucrose) and other things reminiscent of alcohol.  They are, however, alcohol-free.

    You will see sugar alcohols in processed foods — and chewing gum — marketed as “no sugar added”, “sugar-free”, or “diabetic friendly”.  The most popularly used ones include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and hydrogenated starch.

    They are, essentially, an alternative sweetener.  They are particularly useful to people living with diabetes because they demand significantly less insulin then sugar, and do not raise blood glucose levels as much.

    Unlike artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and saccharine, sugar alcohols do contain calories.  Whereas sugar provide four calories per gram, sugar alcohols offer anywhere from 0.6 to 2.7 calories per gram, depending on the specific type.

    Sugar alcohols do have one thing in common with artificial sweeteners — they do not promote tooth decay.

    While I think sugar alcohols are less worrisome than artificial sweeteners, I have a few issues with them:

    1. When consumed in large quantities, they can present very uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms
    2. Since they still add a lot of sweetness to foods, they do absolutely nothing in terms of helping our palates get used to lower amounts of sugar in our diets
    3. Any food product that contains sugar alcohols is highly processed
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    2 Comments

    1. a vet-tech lurker said on March 11th, 2010

      Just a note for your readers – please be aware that xylitol is HIGHLY toxic to dogs. There’s a good article with facts and references at this (long – sorry!) link:

      http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:5R5zBklBoXEJ:www.aspcapro.org/mydocuments/ze-vetm0207f_095-100_.pdf+aspca+poison+control+xylitol&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESj6Pyxj0IdRpYVbsYIuCxJBjR92q7XLpEy902h3XGgxWpljYQ_jwnpwtppA_gzq37TX8d1lK4yfABeHOAQR751QnMUDQnOR-McJjqi0RZmc09pVDRafdo-NAoX7KoNIqtX6aZRF&sig=AHIEtbS0Lrr373VaNbJuo7pmlaQrncBwAA

      Surprisingly few people are aware of this, and it’s much much more toxic than chocolate and most other commonly known household dog poisons. Anyone with dogs should be aware and keep sugarfree gum/etc well out of their reach (or out of the house entirely).

    2. Andy Bellatti said on March 13th, 2010

      I had no idea about this, Chris. Thank you for sharing.

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